Married South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s recent admission of a lengthy affair with an Argentine mistress proves yet again that the burden of public office can come to bear down so heavily on the shoulders of these poor souls that sometimes the only solution is to open that pressure valve controlled by their fly zipper. Before the next politician goes down that road, I’d like to offer some general advice to them in my capacity as a political and media strategist.
1) Leave God out of it. Politicians who end up ensnared in sex scandals don’t just wake up one day to discover their libido is in charge. The surprise is only ever on the part of the public — not the person responsible for the behavior. Knowing that you’re uncontrollably horny and possibly headed for disaster, how about taking care that God isn’t seen riding shotgun with you? This will ensure that he doesn’t end up getting thrown from your pimpmobile when it inevitably comes crashing to an abrupt halt. God was first spotted in Sanford’s passenger seat as he moralized against Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Then Sanford conveniently dragged God into his own mess by holding him responsible for the fact that he’s not going to step down as Governor. Quite simply, he’s staying because God told him to. Even God has to be rolling his eyes at that one, along with the rest of us. Instead of using God as a scapegoat for whatever you did or are about to do, voters would respond better to the idea of accepting full responsibility and accountability.
2) Keep your apologies targeted. Cheating on your wife doesn’t mean that you cheated on taxpayers. Don’t confuse the two. If you didn’t do anything in breach of public trust, then just keep your mouth shut completely. People who argue that politicians who screw around on their wives only prove that they don’t have the requisite character to hold public office don’t know what they’re talking about. Lack of character in one area of your life doesn’t create some kind of slippery slope into another. That’s like arguing a bank robber is likely to commit pedophilia. Point this out, if necessary, by saying that whatever private difficulties you’re facing really have nothing to do with your job, and you’d appreciate being left alone to get on with it.
3) Shake it off like European leaders. Don’t cry in the media like Sanford did, allowing them to set the agenda by responding to them almost daily like you’re a willing participant in some sort of reality show. Just keep going about your job and responsibilities until you’re forcibly removed (which is much more difficult to achieve if you can prove that you’re effective and competent). Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s wife publicly announced that she wants a divorce because her husband won’t stop cavorting with young women. HE then publicly demanded an apology from HER — and went on to enjoy a major victory the European Union elections and the support of at least half of the voting public. His critics are now so desperate that they’re circulating a petition trying to convince G8 country wives to boycott the upcoming summit on Berlusconi’s turf simply because he’s a cheating lout.
Likewise, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s personal life has taken a beating in the media over the years but he has never been distracted from his job. Unless your sex scandal rises to the level of the Profumo Affair — in other words, you’re a War Minister spilling secrets to your mistress while she’s also bedding an enemy of the state — don’t let the media pretend your sex life is that important.
4) Don’t ask for your wife’s cooperation. Be a big boy and take the heat alone. From Silda Spitzer to Hillary Clinton and Jenny Sanford, what’s the deal with these political wives who stand by their man after he gets busted for cheating on them? None of them ever look like they’re keen on being there or genuine in their diplomatic approach to the situation. It’s actually better for both the husband’s career and the wife’s mental health if she just lets him have it publicly with both barrels. The wives will feel better about it, and voters may even start feeling sorry for the guy. Everyone wins. Some have referred to Jenny Sanford’s statement as “classy”. I find that to be a characterization typically used by men who hope that their wives would be equally calm and understanding if they were ever caught cheating themselves.
If I was in Jenny Sanford’s place, my statement would have been 10% identical to hers — meaning all the prepositions and conjunctions would have been the same. But that’s where the similarities would have ended.